Little Mississippi River
Total Distance: 30 km (from the put-in and back)
Duration: A full one-day paddle to the turnaround point and back.
No. of Portages: None in high water
Level of Difficulty: Intermediate due to the length and upstream paddle on the return trip
Map provided courtesy of Toporama which contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.
The upper part of the river from the bridge to Norway Bay was very scenic and interesting. The river was quite narrow there and the current was strong. The river banks were dotted with a mix of cedar and pines, some of which were old and very large. What made this part of the trip fun was the fact that there were several sweepers and blow-downs in the river though none of them completely barricaded the route. It made for quite a little obstacle course. It was a great refresher run for Tanya, who hadn't been in a canoe since our French River trip the previous July.
Our pace downstream was relaxed. We enjoyed riding the downstream current, wanting to conserve our energy, knowing full well that we would have to use our elbow grease against the flow on the return journey. Within a half-hour, we rounded a bend and entered a widening of the river called Norway Bay.
On the eastern shore of the bay, we paddled past an old trailer with a retrofitted wood stove that someone seemed to permanently leave there, probably as a hunting/fishing outpost. I'm not sure how one is allowed to do this on a conservation reserve, but there it was nonetheless. Maybe it belonged to those who manage the reserve, but it certainly didn't look official. I don't think I am the first to wonder about this trailer, because it did have the Ontario Plate numbers spray-painted on the side, perhaps to show the legality of its existence.
We exited the bay to the northeast and came across a large group of Canada geese that lost their minds as we approached. I think I still hear their honking in my ears. There, the river got much wider and the topography of the river banks transitioned from woodland coniferous forest to low-lying wetlands predominately made up of silver maples.
On the first bend in the river, I was feeling the need to purge the two large coffees that I had on the way up in the car. We quickly noted that with the river still in the stages of spring flooding, it was quite a chore to find a solid bank to stand on when we wanted to get out of the canoe. Luckily, we spotted a rare, rocky point at the base of Salt Mountain. As I was happily doing my business, I spotted something white on the ground about ten feet into the forest. Upon investigation, I discovered it was the remains of what was most likely a deer after encountering an apex predator.
For the next 45 minutes or so, the river meandered through the wetlands and would have been quite monotonous if it weren't for all the fantastic wildlife. Along this stretch, we saw loons, mallard ducks, blue jays, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, an otter, a fisher and a number of beavers. There might have been a beaver lodge every 200 meters along this stretch, and, boy, were they busy!
No sooner had I just commented on what a fantastic wilderness experience the river had been thus far when we came upon the only signs of privately-owned land enroute. On the northern bank, for a stretch of about 500 meters, there were a few cottages, homes and a trailer park, but it didn't take long to paddle past and it soon felt like you were in the wilderness again.
A couple of kilometres past the trailer park, the marshy wetlands started to show evidence of forested woodlands and rocky shorelines again. There, we stopped for sandwiches and a short rest. The river narrowed again and picked up its pace. We rounded a bend and could hear running water and knew we were approaching Davey's Rapid. It was only one little drop in the river and had a nice little tongue down the center that was easy to run in the high water. Immediately below the swift was the only real spot where one could camp en route. An ATV trail ran up to it and it was on a high grassy bluff under a beautiful big pine tree. It appeared to be a regular spot for trail bashers who left their plastic lawn furniture all over it.
At the top of the rise, overlooking the falls, there was a wonderful, massive old pine tree. What a beauty!
Below Loney's Chute, though the area is listed as part of the Little Mississippi River Conservation Reserve on the Crown Land Use Policy Map, there is a cabin and maintained land that looked like it might belong to someone, so we were reluctant to go investigate the area more in case it was someone's private property. Perhaps it was managed by the local township, but we were at our turnaround point and begrudgingly knew we had to start our upstream paddle.
Our trip back to the car took about a half-hour longer than the downstream leg, due to the current working against us. Unfortunately, the rain came in a little harder, as well. On the bright side, Tanya and I went into beast mode and we were able to paddle up Davey's Rapids without having to get out of the canoe! My daughter impresses me more and more on every trip. At this rate, she'll be replacing my seat in the stern seat soon enough!
Shortly after 4 pm, we veered around a twist in the river and saw the Boulter Road bridge and our vehicle ahead. It was a welcome sight. We had paddled 30kms, half against a fairly strong current and had been on the river for 6.5 hours. A 30km paddling day is long, even when one is in good paddling shape and not fighting a river upstream. This was my first long day of paddling after the Covid winter and I was feeling it! Tanya, even at the immortal age of 17, was feeling it as well. She slept most of the way back home, even though it wasn't a long drive.
The Little Mississippi is a fantastic day trip and is highly recommended. It would have been even better had we brought a second vehicle and paddled right to Conroy Marsh without paddling back upstream, but we decided to save that for another time. It could also be a part of a larger trip involving a trip down the York or starting at Weslemkoon Lake.